Decade of deviants
|By Rich Tupica|
Local music defined by rough-around-edges rock in 2000sIt’s hard to wrap up all the noteworthy Lansing rock bands of the last decade into one story, with a strict word limit.
So let’s start by laughing off the numetal groups that carried on past 1999, which immediately disregards many horrible Michigan bands. What’s left is a mix of indie, punk, rockabilly, metal, experimental and garage rock.
Over the last 10 years, a handful of local groups have recorded odd music that didn’t necessarily fit into a polished hipster scene. Today there is a new batch of kids with similar DIY ideals, just a different sound and aesthetic.
While the ‘90s may have been all about Bantam Rooster, The Clutters and El Smasho, the ‘00s was the start to a new Lansing sound — one that lasted nearly the entire decade.
Bands like Fun Ender, Tahquamenon Falls, Wastelander, Gaytar, The Chirps, Red Teeth and the Cartridge Family all slowly became fixtures in Lansing.
So how did this scene, which was, and still is, mainly centered around Mac’s Bar and the now defunct Temple Club, change over the years?
Colin Such, guitarist and lead vocalist of Fun Ender, said while the scene still draws a crowd, he feels it’s missing out on a huge untapped resource. “When I first started playing, there seemed to be more of connectivity between the college crowd and Mac’s Bar,” he said. “Today, I think the connection between the college kids, who would come out to shows, and venues have dissipated. I think there has been a real drop off.”
Cale Sauter, 29, a local musician and founder of Bermuda Mohawk Productions (BMP), began playing in bands and booking shows in 2000. Since then, he has noticed a common thread that runs through the scene.
“Some of the bands now are similar to what was popular in the ‘80s and ‘90s,” Sauter said. “The bands, whether they know it or not, all have a filtered down Touch & Go Records’ sound, which was started here in Lansing before that label moved to Chicago. I feel that has always knowingly or unknowingly influenced a lot of punk bands in the area; it’s that Midwestern, rough-around-the-edgessound.”
While most of the old school punks have dropped out of the local scene, a new batch of younger musicians have been steadily filling their shoes. Local indie labels BMP, Los Diaper Records and Good Time Gang Records all work continuously on booking shows and pressing local albums.
Aside from bands and labels, newer venues have also sprouted up. One of the busiest of the new-school venues is Basement 414, a large three-room space that mixes live music, activism and art.
The venue is also known for its volunteer staff that works long hours hosting nonprofit shows, all for the hope of promoting awareness and art in Lansing. At the other end of the spectrum, the ‘00s saw the return of the Small Planet, reincarnated as something of a sports bar/rock venue with a full dinner menu in the apartment farms of East Lansing’s Chandler Crossings. Since opening in 2008, the venue has helped bring back some bigger national acts, including Dinosaur Jr. and Electric Six.
Below is a beginner’s guide to the last decade of Lansing music.
Fun Ender: Formed in 2003, Lansing’s angriest band wrote odd-timed, postpunk-flavored tunes. From awkward songs about masturbation, to other disturbing odes of hate, this band created a signature sound that is hard to ignore. The band is on hiatus, but new songs are in the works.
Red Swan: After forming in 2002, the band’s debut 7-inch was recorded by Steve Albini (of Big Black, Rape Man, Shellac; he also recorded some band called Nirvana once), and was recently listed as an essential “Pigfuck” album in Spin Magazine. While the band, which broke up in 2007, has often been compared to Wisconsin’s Killdozer, Red Swan’s lyrical folklore made it a one-of-a-kind Lansing fixture.
The People’s Temple: While this band may be the youngest on the list, its sound is old as Keith Richards and Roky Erickson. Since forming in 2007, this psych-punk band has released a couple of 7-inch records and has played a long list of shows that usually end in some sort of violent act. This is no run-of-the-mill garage band; solid lyrics and strange harmonies set it apart from the rest.
Frontier Ruckus: Since its debut release in 2006, this indie/bluegrass/folk band established a fan base across the country, was signed by Ramseur Records and has toured non-stop. The band’s latest release, “The Orion Songbook” LP, is available at all local record stores, and a new release is on the way.
The Cheap Girls: After two full-length LPs, multiple U.S. tours and a trip to Europe, this band could be Lansing’s next big thing. Combining ‘90s alt-rock with dabbles of ‘80s college rock, this band of slackers has a growing fan base that stretches over oceans.
Dead Stream Corners: While this band, which formed in 2004, is known for it’s ‘60s garage-rock sound, it stood out from cookie-cutter revivalists with its menacing sonics and cocky stage presence. Since its debut record (recorded by former White Stripes producer Jim Diamond) was never released and the band is broken up, it will forever be a lost Lansing music treasure.
Flatfoot: Formed in 2000, Flatfoot has been a gem in the Lansing twang scene. With influences like the Flying Burrito Brothers, The Rolling Stones and Johnny Cash, it’s not hard to imagine the brilliant American roots sound that comes through on each of the band’s albums.